I’ve made my peace with seeing Christmas decorations in stores well before Thanksgiving.
I’m down with the pagan influences on the holiday. I’m cool with hanging greens, decorating with holly and ivy, lighting yule logs, and setting up Christmas trees.
I’m hip to honoring the winter solstice.
I mean it’s not like Christians aren’t affected by the mood affecting darkening of days, and the primal, collective joy that comes with the return of increased daylight after Dec. 21st.
I look forward to putting gifts from Santa Claus into my kid’s stocking (remembering who St. Nicholaus really was).
I’m perfectly fine if people wish me “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We live in an era when folks can’t assume that everyone’s a fellow Christian and it really does cover more aspects of the holiday season. I’m not troubled by “Xmas” – as X has long been a symbol for Christ (X simply being short for Χριστός).
And I’m even cool with “Festivus” – a parody secular holiday that offers a non-commercial way of celebrating that mid-winter time of the year.
What I’m not willing to accept and accommodate is the stressful madness and rush to “be ready for Christmas.” To have all of our gifts bought, wrapped, and delivered by December, 25th – as if that were what we are supposed to be ready for.
One of my Facebook acquaintances recently posted a status update that smuggly stated, “Happy to have all of my Christmas shopping completed.” It was posted on November 22.
Then came a flurry of comments posted by that person’s FB pals either conveying that they too have most or all of their shopping done in an ugly display of competitive Type A ridiculousness (some even bragging about getting their shopping done far earlier)– or, alternately, re-actively expressing how they are no where near ready and that they need to get busy shopping to “be ready” for the big day.
…Tis the season to be anxious?
Some back-story: It wasn’t until several centuries into Christian history that the birth of Jesus became something for Christians to celebrate; i.e., starting in 336 A.D. Celebrating the great joy of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter has always been the big event. For the vast majority of Christian history, Christmas was a rather low-key event without much fanfare – let alone anxiety connected to it. And when a holiday marking Jesus’ birth was created (on a date that would intentionally rival and supplant the winter solstice and the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) the focus was on Advent – the 5 weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of “waiting” and is sort of a “winter Lent.” A time of fasting and prayerful contemplation – which culminates in a 12 day holiday of breaking-fast and feasting that ends the day before Epiphany.
It was when Clement C. Moore wrote his famed poem for his children A visit from St. Nicholas “Twas the night before Christmas…” in 1823 that things began to shift. Word about that whimsical poem spread across the land and it’s been printed and reprinted in newspapers ever since. While technically, December 24th is “the day before Christmas,” Christmas isn’t a one day holiday. There are twelve days of Christmas and there is no Godly reason for any of us to have our shopping done before those days have come and gone. Friends, baby Jesus doesn’t coo any more gently or grin anymore radiantly if you buy all of your gifts that you’ll be giving to others in His name by Dec. 25. Heck, he was probably born in the spring anyway.
Add to that Coca Cola’s Santa themed advertising campaign of the early 1900’s, the mass distribution of cheap crap made overseas via Woolworth’s, Sears & Roebuck, Macy’s, and a big dose of Madison Avenue’s advertising machine — and voila! Here we are today rushing off to stores the day after (or even day of) Thanksgiving — pushing and fighting our way through teeming hoards vying to get their grubby hands on the “it” gifts of the year.
Another major factor in all of this is that corporations don’t follow the Church year and calendar – which begins the 1st Sunday of Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Corporations follow the secular calendar as their fiscal year and they have a very vested interest in getting as many sales transactions as possible before December 31st . And yet, that’s only the 7th day of Christmas! There’s five more days of celebrating to go! Five more days of saying “Merry Christmas! Five more days of feasting. And five more days of giving gifts celebrating the birth of our beloved window into God’s heart and character – Jesus.
Do we really want to be giving each other black eyes in crowded lines on “Black Friday?”
Do we really want to reduce our celebrating of the birth of God’s presence among us to just one measly day?
Is freaking-out and being anxious in any way coming from a place of faith? Remember, the angels and even Jesus himself told us to “Fear not.”
Instead of seeing getting ready for Christmas as a mad dash to the Dec. 25th finish line, how about taking some time to truly savor the season of Advent. Take some time to go inward and to contemplate your life and your God. Take some time to take stock of things and reassess your priorities. Take some time to consider what things might be helpful to ensure that you end the year with relationships as reconciled and harmonious as possible.
And instead of taking down your tree and lights “the day after Christmas,” take some time to truly savor and enjoy a long warm drink of the 12 days of love that are Christmas.
“I get it “– you’re saying. I’m making a cute point and sharing a bit of interesting trivia and you’re giving me an appreciative smile and nod and hoping to carry on with your day. But watch this. Let me show you how taking this approach to Christmas will not only reduce your stress, but also save you money. Let’s take a page from the worldly playbook and let’s “Occupy” Christmas by purchasing many of our gifts after Dec. 25 and spread out our giving of them throughout those 12 Days. Perhaps just giving the “Santa” gifts on Dec. 25, etc. “Okay. Nice. But about the saving money part?”
Psst. All of the stores put all of their merchandise on greatly reduced sales prices starting …drum-roll… Dec. 26 – which they (and we) mistakenly think is “the day after Christmas.” Seriously, you can buy far more gifts for far less money this way! Including gifts of needed financial contributions to churches and charities. We can also make hand made gifts — and simply spend more quality time with our loved ones too.
Being good stewards of time and finances is being faithful. “Getting everything ready by Dec. 25” — is, well, something other than that. Besides, how can any of us be truly ready for what God has done for us through that scrappy little dreamer who grew up to cause such a liberating ruckus in the world?
My prayer for us is that we’ll consider each of these 12 blessed days as ways to take back Christmas, save money, and stay at least a bit more sane.
xx – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity